The Songwriting Process is Weird…

…but I’m starting to accept that, and even like it.

You may have noticed I haven’t written any love/sex/relationship songs. Of course, that theme comprises probably 90% of all popular songs. That’s partly why I haven’t written any, I figure the world doesn’t need anymore of them. Why write the same songs that have already been written 1,000,000 times by 1,000,000 songwriters? But I have done some free-writing on various past relationships, and even started putting some lines together. I thought I should do at least one.

I was trying out some lines with different types of music, not finding anything that seemed to resonate well. I then put on a cd of my “library” of music ideas–stuff I’d come up with and recorded so I wouldn’t forget, sometimes years ago. One was on a mandolin. Upbeat, simple I-IV-V chords. I started to fast forward to the next idea, then hesitated. Hmmm… something about that. The girl in question was into bluegrass music… and maybe the music shouldn’t be slow, shouldn’t be minor key, the subject matter is dreary enough… let’s try it. So I grabbed my acoustic guitar instead of the mandolin. The music on the mandolin was in D. I replicated it on the guitar. Then I remembered seeing a songwriter friend of mine, Ed Skibbe, performing recently, and it seemed on 2/3 of his songs he used a partial 5-string capo on the 2nd fret, for a drop-D simulation in E. I had one of those laying around, hadn’t written a song that way before, so I slapped in on there. Bingo. That was it.

Once I had music that seemed right, what do you know? The lyrics started falling into place. Got a chorus–a good chorus too, if I do say so myself–and the first verse written. Some of my best stuff, I think. Here it is as it stands now:

Verse 1:
She took off for Biloxi
with a banjo on her back
And left me here in Denver
trying to understand
I heard the thunder in the distance
but I never thought it’d rain
And now you say
You’ll be ok

But try and explain that to my heart
It cries when it’s left out in the dark
Like a child, it wants to have it’s way
And feel no pain
Hey hey hey

Now for the second verse. Another weird thing happened. I’d written all sorts of other lines about the girl in question. But something said to me: you’ve said enough. Talk about somebody else now. I thought of a friend, and started writing about one of his experiences. Then I ran into another friend, and decided her story was better. I’ll write that one for the 2nd verse.

Then I’ll have either a bridge or a third verse where I summarize the theme–talk about how illogical the “heart” is; how the “brain” can accept that something is over and move on, but the heart won’t listen. That’s the plan now, it could change. Hell, the first verse and chorus could get changed, too! Gotta keep an open mind…

Weird how this songwriting works. But now I say, “bring on the weirdness”.

1 thought on “The Songwriting Process is Weird…

  1. I hear you…

    I’ve got a song all about loneliness and longing…

    and it could easily devolve into an “I ain’t missing you at all” thing, which has been done to death.

    But the dude is saying he’s all right, while communicating in a frame of longing…

    …so I get to the third verse…where does it go from here?

    And, unmistakably, my heavenly counsel is nudging me towards referring to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and Elvis.


    But really there was nothing to do but submit. They had me… and there was no point in resisting.

    To be a good songwriter, you have to be submissive to the voices from the beyond, he said unselfconsciously.

    So, you can hear it if you want…a lonely song that sings about Hank and Johnny and Elvis. Never thought I’d end up there…

    I”ve been examining, at my blog, the question of inspiration vs. doing. I call the doingness of songwriting “chicky chacky” because a lot of guitar playing songwriters write “on” the guitar. Which to me is not really writing, but I admit I’m a snob for pure receiving.

    It’s not that the receiving doesn’t often, usually or almost always result in harmonic patterns that are familiar. It’s just that if you have a choice between the deep mind — the sub- or super-conscious realm…or chicky chacky, I say it’s no contest.

    Tom St. Louis

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